Letter from the editor: The plight of one’s digital footprint and its influence at the Iowa State Daily

Alex Connor

It’s a series of events that feel all too familiar in a digital era that has engulfed and challenged the way our society feels, manages, believes and acts — especially when the path forward is one rife with confusion, polarization and oftentimes harmful rhetoric.

A tweet of an explicit or offensive nature is sent, or perhaps dug up after years of being weighed down by Twitter replies and mentions. It gains popularity and media attention because the tweet in question is associated with someone of notoriety or interest to the public at large.

Sometimes it results in termination, such as the case of “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn, who from 2009 to 2012, tweeted a series of “jokes” that were abusive and pedophilic in nature. According to Disney, the “offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values.”

And while a public apology by the individual involved almost always occurs, the ensuing consequence of termination isn’t always the case.

Just one week after Gunn’s removal, old tweets that were trite with racist language and homophobic slurs from Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner resurfaced. Yet, he continues to play today.

And while the Nationals released a statement denouncing the comments as a reflection of the club, he was allowed to continue to play because his “comments are not indicative of how he has conducted himself while part of our team,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.

Other players in the National Baseball League, too, were discovered to have made insensitive and bigoted tweets while in high school — Josh Hader and Sean Newcomb issuing apologies yet facing no serious repercussions or consequences.

And as journalists, we navigate this shifting digital climate with eyes wide-open. We are often the first to report on these tweets when they resurface, feeding into the desire of the public to better understand the complexities of the situation.

Yet what remains to be lost on not only the public figures, influencers and politicians, but also the journalists navigating this intrepid digital environment, is the digital footprint we leave behind.

While the constant necessity to adapt and challenge our perceptions of what digital technology has to contribute, like a thriving, diverse and complex media environment, it can also swallow and consume content at an alarming rate.

And just because we may feel our social media is a changing reflection of who we understand ourselves to be, it also permeates ideologies and beliefs that may be inconsistent with the values we hold today.

But the harmful rhetoric and serious weight of previous actions cannot just be ignored. The sheer existence of words that are used to add to the historic systems that society has created to marginalize and oppress underrepresented communities and identities cannot, nor should not, be brushed aside.

I write all this to preface what I must tell you, our readers — the Iowa State Daily is not exempt from this invasive existence of our past selves and the digital permanence of previously held ignorant beliefs that are detrimental and dangerous to growth at both an individual and institutional level.

On Tuesday, I learned that in 2014, one of the Iowa State Daily’s top editors published tweets that were sexist and racist in nature.

While the editor was a high school senior and did not work at the Daily at the time the tweets were published, the words used by the editor were disrespectful, bigoted and ignorant. The editor has since resigned from the position.

I felt that it was important to be transparent with you, our readers, about this incident and to let you know that we have taken both internal, and external, measures to ensure that we can turn this into a learning experience for the betterment of the Iowa State Daily staff and Ames community.

We intend to form a diversity and inclusion committee to take a critical look at our policy, as well as organize more all-staff training opportunities so that we are not only educating our staffers on how to be better journalists but also people that can better understand perspectives and express empathy with those separate from their own experiences and identities.

As journalists, one of the greatest responsibilities we are privileged to have is the ability to share the stories of others but to do so we must first understand the implications of our own backgrounds, beliefs and biases. As students, we are privileged to live and work in a higher education environment that allows for and advocates for our growth on a daily basis.

In our line of work especially, both as students and journalists, we commonly use words — stringing together sentences with the intent to drive dialogue, promote critical thinking and encourage the free and open discussion of ideas and beliefs within our community.

And these words, the ones that we value so dearly, carry weight. In our field, we understand the impact our words can have both in a positive and a negative way — how we can help, but also harm.

As journalists we falter. We are not without human error or fault. Implicit biases that we may not identify with today, or have overcome, may still haunt who we are or who we’ve grown to be.

But growth should not be at the expense of our community.

Thank you,